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Moving parts: Frank Konrad and Philipp Unterhalt

At HAHN Automation Group, innovation is key for success. However, as Co-CEOs Frank Konrad and Philipp Unterhalt tell The CEO Magazine, they would be nothing without the employees operating behind the scenes.

Frank Konrad and Philipp Unterhalt

At HAHN Automation Group, a global solution partner for factory automation, culture is what ultimately underpins the entire way that they operate. In fact, Konrad and Unterhalt joke that as well as only hiring people who share the values of the company, whenever acquiring companies, they also always have an eye on the management side because they only want to do business with people they can also have a beer with.

Indeed, when Unterhalt first joined the HAHN Automation Group team in 2014 as Investment Manager of RSBG SE – a holding subsidiary of the RAG-Stiftung that had just acquired the majority stake in HAHN Automation Group – he says the main reason he took the position was because he recognized how unique and intimate their culture was.

“This company is driven by management that have people as the focus,” he explains. “I’ve seen a lot of companies in my life, but I had never felt this kind of culture before.” So much so, that it even proved to be the catalyst that prompted him to accept the role of Managing Director in 2019.

“I thought, ‘Hey, this is really special’,” he says. “Besides performance, it’s these values and the culture that brings the team together. You can see it when we have gatherings like a global conference of the management teams. It’s like friends meeting, not colleagues.”

Growing the team

From a management and acquisitions perspective, the same applies – not only are they looking for companies that add technology or a new region or industry, but that are a cultural fit, too. “We have an underlying set of values that drive this company,” Unterhalt says. “And besides performance, it’s these values and the culture that brings the team together.”

Konrad, who began his journey with HAHN Automation Group as a designer in 1995, adds that this mentality also extends to their suppliers. “At the end of the day, we like to do business in the same way we do with our internal people – we are open and treat them like friends,” he says.

“We are not trying to do what some German engineering companies do, which is to do everything by themselves. Instead, we ask our supplier networks what their solutions for problems we encounter would be. That way, together with our partners, we can develop the next generation of machines.”

Unterhalt expands on this concept, adding that they treat these relationships like part of a greater, ever-evolving ecosystem. And in order for this essential ecosystem to thrive, HAHN Automation Group has to ensure that other businesses want to interact with them, too.

HAHN Group machinery

“At the end of the day, we like to do business in the same way we do with our internal people – we treat them like friends.”

“This is true on the employee side, this is true on the customer side and this also needs to be true on the partner side,” he explains. “Being kind is also about bringing the internal culture to the outside. Building a trusting relationship is the best thing you can do in preparation for whatever crisis comes.”

Having celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2022, today HAHN Automation Group and its subsidiaries employ 1,800 people across nine countries. And as for the next chapter, technological advancements as well as changing industry requirements mean that HAHN Automation Group is always adapting, innovating and expanding their offerings.

“Market requirements, new technologies and new challenges are driving us in a certain direction,” Unterhalt says. “And of course, we want to drive this change from our side. We really want to become the global solutions partner for factory automation – something very different to just an equipment provider.”

By integrating all of these entities, technologies, competencies and capabilities into the same solution, HAHN Automation Group ensures that it’s speaking the same language and has the same standards, definition, structure, systems and processes to create a standardized quality in everything that it puts its name to.

Strength in numbers

Another facet of this is a renewed focus on digital innovation. While HAHN Automation Group implemented a digital strategy back in 2016, Unterhalt says that there were unavoidable challenges due to the timing. “The market wasn’t ready for it and our team wasn’t ready for it,” he recalls.

“We are world-class machine builders, but that is not actually enough. That is, of course, the foundation for our success, but it needs to be accompanied by the digital solutions we are still currently working on.”

Frank Konrad
Frank Konrad

In opposition to the idea that digitalization and automation are job-killers, Unterhalt sees it instead as production enabling. “We employ highly skilled people,” he continues. “Even after an education, it takes years to get into this line of work, therefore people are our most important asset. We do not have production equipment, we only have facilities and brains, so to retain and develop these resources, we need to put people first.”

When asked what he believes sets HAHN Automation Group apart from their competitors, again Unterhalt brings it back to culture.

“Together we are stronger.”

“Of course the customer comes first, but I think it’s equally important to be a good home for our people,” he says. “We want them to remain with HAHN Automation Group from recruitment to retirement. I really want them to stick with us for their entire career, because we can provide all of the different perspectives and prospects that they need. So, when we talk about what differentiates us, as well as our vision going forward, this is a crucial element.”

From their internal operational team to customers, acquisitions and, of course, suppliers, Konrad believes it all comes down to one theme: “Together we are stronger.”